The Longest Journey

This is the road we’ll walk for the rest of our lives.

There’s a contrast, here, to the usual mantra. We like to advocate living in the moment, pulling our perspective back to the here and now, but there’s one catch we need to consider: sometimes we need the long-term approach.

Sometimes we need to step back and view the bigger picture. Sometimes we need to remember that we’re in this for the long haul, that we’re going to walk this road for the rest of our lives, and sometimes — let’s be honest, typically all the time — we forget to do both whenever we’re flexing and posing in front of the mirror. (Guilty!).

I’m speaking, of course, about our health. There’s a demand for balance, here, better than anywhere else: a need to respect our body as it is today, no matter what stage we’re at in our journey to better health, and a need (every bit as important!) to remember every improvement we’ve made — and every improvement to come — when we get stuck in the present.

We need, in other words, to stop poking our stomachs and sighing whenever we wake up the morning after heavy exercise and don’t magically have six-pack abs.

Or maybe that’s just me.

The Importance of Being Patient

It’s so easy to obsess, isn’t it?

I doubt I’m alone in admitting that I do. I’ve managed to unchain myself from most of the usual health and dietary dogma, but sometimes I still find myself falling into an unpleasant routine: expecting changes here and now, when the one and only thing that every health expert can agree on is the fact that health takes time.

You need time to achieve your health goals. You need to give yourself time to inch towards them. True to human nature, though, we rarely give ourselves enough, saddling ourselves with unrealistic goals and otherwise unreasonable expectations of when we’ll achieve them.

Again: health takes more time, frankly, than any of us would like to admit.

We exercise one day and expect results the next. We skip a few meals one day and expect immediate improvements the next. There’s nothing wrong with either of those strategies, as they’re arguably the best ‘techniques’ for better health, but we tend to forget how they actually work: slowly.

Slower than we’d like, in any case. We need to be patient. We need to remember that we’re in this for the long haul, each and every one of us, and that positive changes in days, months, or years are exactly that: positive. Worthwhile. A road worth walking, in other words, no matter how long it takes.

We need to realize how far we’ve already come, every single one of us, even if the biggest changes aren’t always immediately visible when we glance in the mirror.

All About the Attitude

That’s another realization we tend to gloss over: our mental changes are every bit as important as the physical ones. Whether you’ve decided to stop cheating, to start thinking about what you eat, or just made the conscious decision to care about your health, you’re already operating in a significantly better — healthier — way than you did before.

Don’t forget that. It’s easy to, I know, when you feel like your physical form is lagging behind.

Take my stomach as an example (I might start a new blog: Sentences I Never Thought I’d Write). My completely and utterly vain desire for six-pack abs has been well-documented on this blog, but I’ve often glossed over the other part of the equation: the disappointment I’ve felt in the months since I’ve started.

Progress, to put it bluntly, hasn’t always been great. You might call it slow-going, if you were being nice, and I’d sigh and have to agree with you. I’ve caught myself poking and prodding my gut in the mirror more than once, squinting my eyes and contorting my body in a way that I might see some of the definition I so plainly desire.

This probably isn’t healthy.

It’s an open gateway to disappointment, in any case, and an invitation for misery — an oft-daily opportunity to forget how far I’ve come in favor of my quest for sweet, sexy abs.

I had a strange thought the other day, though, that nipped any and all disappointment right in the bud: I’ll have abs soon.

When? I can’t be completely sure. Why? Because I’m doing everything right. I’m eating less courtesy of Daily Intermittent Fasting, I’m exercising in fun, sunny ways, and I’m genuinely not stressing about much of anything else. I’m not counting. I’m not measuring or weighing or obsessing over any numbers, opting to just eat what I feel like a few times a day.

And I am, in all sincerity, seeing progress — just not as much as I’d like sometimes, and not as fast as my (unreasonable) expectations allowed.

It’ll take time, sure, for my ego to be content with what’s happening around my stomach. Knowing this, I can still be content — happy with every mental change I’ve made in the last year, the incremental improvements that have radically altered my approach to strong, long-lasting health.

So again: don’t forget every positive change going on upstairs.

It’s easy to fixate on the physical. It’s easier to feel disappointment over any real (or imaginary!) lack of change. But it’s worth remembering, I think, every wonderful improvement you’ve made in bettering your approach to health, and that every single one of those changes will — in time — bring you the body and mind you so fervently desire.

It’s a long road, after all. It’s your life.

Live well, live slowly, and don’t forget how far you’ve come.

Thanks so much for reading!

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7 Comments

  1. David Damron says:

    The long journey is tough. I won’t lie. I try to think in 2-3 months spurts of how I want to be physically. However, I do still have “living a healthy life” a general and planned approach to my entire life.

    Something I try to ask myself is whether I would feel better after eating “this thing” whatever that might be. This doesn’t just apply to what I am eating, but also to how much. Do I really need this extra donut? I mean I have already eaten 12. Or something like that. :)

    My advice to others is to not overwhelm yourself when it comes to the long journey. Just be honest with yourself as to whether you are creating a bad habit. Looking at the grand scheme of things the burger you are eating may not be bad, but if you look at the big picture and everyday you eat a burger, then changing that may be necessary for the long journey.

    David Damron
    Life Excursion

  2. Cordelia says:

    I’ve been lurking on your site for a while, and I love your practical, basic-sense philosophy. (Just finished reading Roots, incidentally, and it gave me and my poor-diet husband *quite* a lot to talk about.)

    This post in particular hits home because I’ve really been making a concerted effort lately to take better care of myself overall – getting out and exercising more, eating better foods in smaller portions, listening to the natural rhythms of my body. And although all of these steps are aiming towards an overall healthier life, guess what I find myself doing every morning (and night, and sometimes after lunch)? Looking at my profile in the mirror and “poking my stomach” to see if it looks any leaner.

    Some days it does, some days it doesn’t. And I’ve been putting *way* too much stock in this minuscule fluctuations instead of realizing it’s a gradual process and the important thing is just to keep at it.

    Thanks for the reminder, Matt. It was definitely needed!

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Thank you so much, Cordelia, for the kind words. :) I’m glad Roots gave you and your husband something to chew on!

      Your stomach-prodding ‘process’ made me laugh, since I’m pretty sure that’s the best summation of what I do too. :) It’s hard to stop, isn’t it? It’s so hard not to do a great workout and then immediately run to the mirror to see if anything changed. You’re exactly right, though: we’ve both been putting too much stock into these tiny, most minuscule of changes, when long-term health is exactly that — long-term.

      Patience, I suspect, is the rule of the day. :) Thanks for the great comment!

  3. Pete Nguyen says:

    Living slowly is a point that really hits home for me. There hasn’t been a single instance where I’ve made a resolution to start working out and didn’t expect visible results that same week. The motivation for doing it was purely aesthetic, and as a result there wasn’t a genuine attention span for it that lasted for more than three weeks.

    But when I make small changes for the right reasons and just make sure my mind and body are sound, I’m amazed by how many healthy habits find their way into my daily routine.

    Great article!

    Pete

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Exactly, Pete. I’m guilty of it too: diving in with nothing but aesthetics on the mind and burning out tremendously just a week or two later. The only way I’ve found any success is to implement small, long-lasting changes over a long period of time, and to make sure that these changes benefit me overall. Not just my body, though that’s a perk, but my general well-being.

      It’s hard to drop a change like that. :)

      Thanks for reading!

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